Hopewell fumbles his first chance at punt return

November 07, 2004|MARTY WARREN

LEXINGTON - He had never returned a punt during his playing career, but Andrew Hopewell had waited his turn during his three seasons at Kentucky and was willing to do anything to help the Wildcats. On Saturday, he finally got his turn.

But a fumble on his punt return in the first quarter made his big moment one to forget instead of one to remember.

Injuries and suspensions gave Hopewell the chance to play against eighth-ranked Georgia, and he handled Gordon Ely-Kelso's punt at his own 18-yard line. He made two steps to his right before being hit and losing the ball, and Greg Blue recovered for the Bulldogs at the Kentucky 21.

"That was the first punt return in my whole life, not even in high school," Hopewell said. "I was hoping I could have done a lot better with the opportunity, but I tried to do too much and get more yardage after I got hit. In hindsight, I should have just gone down after I got hit.


"I expected to really get an earful from the coaches when I got to the sideline, but the only thing they said was I needed to secure the ball more."

The Kentucky defense held Georgia to only a field goal following the fumble, but they had problems stopping the Bulldogs from scoring at will after that and Georgia rolled to a 62-17 win over the Wildcats.

Injuries mounting

Hopewell is thankful that the UK staff is giving him a chance to return punts, but hates the thought of it having to come down to injuries to do so.

"I've never seen so many injuries at one time," the Danville High School graduate said. "They are dropping like flies. Everyone was getting hurt play after play and a lot of people are trying to play through it. They didn't want to be one of the walking wounded. I love being able to play, but I hate it that injuries played a part in it. I always have wanted to earn a spot on this team, and I have done so on special teams. Maybe this will lead to something I can hold onto."

The loss dropped the Wildcats to 1-8, including seven straight after their win over Indiana. Hopewell said he has never experienced anything like that in his playing career.

"I never lost seven games during my high school career, let alone seven in a row," Hopewell said. "Things have started spiraling out of control and that's what is so disappointing. This team wants to turn it around so much and our pride is hurt more than anything else."

He did have one interesting thought about all of the injuries.

"You don't want to think everyone is getting hurt because we are getting beat so bad," the junior linebacker said. "You can think that but everyone is honestly getting beaten up."

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